In separate votes on successive days last week, state legislative committees approved one bill that would decriminalize oral and anal sex — and another measure that would make "the Holy Bible" Louisiana's official state book.
House Bill 12 by state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, which would remove consensual oral and anal sex from the state's "crimes against nature" statute, passed the House Administration of Criminal Justice Committee on April 9. The language already was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. Smith's bill passed the committee 9-6 and heads to the full House.
"This bill is a cleanup bill," Smith said. "No matter what you think about the language, it's unconstitutional."
Between 2011 and 2013, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office made arrests under the state's anti-sodomy laws. East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux III later apologized and pledged to work to remove the language from the law. Smith's repeal also saw support from East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore, Louisiana Sheriffs Association director Michael Ranatza, and Pete Adams, director of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association.
In a February statement, Equality Louisiana president Tim West said, "It just makes sense to remove an unenforceable law from the books." He also called opposition from Gene Mills and his group the Louisiana Family Forum (LFF) "unambiguous discrimination."
At the April 9 meeting, that opposition came out in full force. LFF's Bill Smith said the bill would not address the AIDS crisis in Louisiana and Baton Rouge, which has one of the highest rates of HIV in the U.S. "This [bill] opens up ways for them to kill themselves," he said. Opponents also said they are against the bill because it would remove penalties against crimes against children under 17 (which isn't the case; the bill only repeals provisions of crime against nature relative to consensual, uncompensated sex).
Chuck Lowman with the Baptist Association of Greater Baton Rouge said he's "concerned where we are as a society" and "concerned about where this is leading." "While we have to comply with Supreme Court decisions, we don't have to eliminate the punishments for this kind of behavior," he said.
In response, Smith said she was "elated" hearing the opposition because "these individuals are finally realizing we have epidemics in our society — of chlamydia, STIs and HIV," she said. "Maybe then Mr. Mills will be in support of a sex education bill."
Meanwhile, the House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs approved a bill by state Rep. Tom Carmody, R-Shreveport, to make "the Holy Bible" the official state book of Louisiana. The bill was debated for more than an hour — and then amended — on April 10 before the committee voted 8-5 to approve it.
Among the objections were concerns voiced by urban lawmakers that the measure would offend non-Christian citizens and invite a legal challenge because it appeared to be an official state endorsement of Christianity. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits any law "respecting an establishment of religion."
There also was extensive debate over which version of the Good Book should actually hold the title of Louisiana's official state book. Carmody's House Bill 503 originally called for a particular Bible to hold that honor — "the Holy Bible, published by Johannes Prevel, (Prevel, Jean, active 1510-1528, printer. & Petit, Jean, fl. 1492-1530.), which is the oldest edition of the Holy Bible in the Louisiana State Museum system."
Some lawmakers asked if that edition contained all the books of the Old Testament, while others asked if it was the Protestant King James version or the Catholic St. Joseph version. After taking a break to consider other bills, the committee opted for the non-specific (and non-denominational) "Holy Bible" reference.